The plant is an annual, climbing shrub with long vines that can reach over 15 m in length.
In many parts of the world Mucuna pruriens is used as an important forage, fallow and green manure crop. Since the plant is in the legume family (peas and beans), it, with the help of nitrogen fixing bacteria, takes nitrogen gas from the air and combines it with other chemical compounds producing fertilizer and improving the soil.
Mucuna pruriens is a widespread fodder plant in the tropics. To that end, the whole plant is fed to animals as silage, dried hay or dried seeds. Mucuna pruriens silage contains 11-23% crude protein, 35-40% crude fiber, and the dried beans 20-35% crude protein.
Mucuna pruriens is sometimes used as a coffee substitute called "Nescafe" (not to be confused with the commercial brand). Cooked fresh shoots or beans can also be eaten. This requires that they be soaked from at least 30 minutes to 48 hours in advance of cooking, or the water changed up to several times during cooking, since otherwise the plant can be toxic to humans. The above described process leaches out chemical compounds such as levodopa, making the product suitable for consumption. If consumed in large quantities as food, unprocessed Mucuna pruriens is toxic to nonruminant animals including humans.